Almost 100 undocumented Colombians traveling in three small buses were detained today at a National Guard checkpoint in Barinas. Initial news reports tagged the detained Colombians as “presumed paramilitaries.” Subsequently, corrected reports said only that the Colombians were undocumented and traveling in a group.
The Chavez regime may still attempt to portray these hapless Colombian nationals as paramilitaries to advance its own political agenda. But it’s more likely that the Colombians were en route to Caracas and other cities where they hope to find jobs. As bad as Venezuela’s economy is today, there are still more and better-paying job opportunities for poor Colombians in Venezuela than in their own country.
Tens of thousands of undocumented Colombians come into Venezuela each year. The majority use long-established smuggling routes operated by illegal businesses based in the “barrios” of Caracas and other cities like Maracaibo. These smuggling enterprises have been transporting people and goods (encomiendas) in both directions literally for decades.
The busiest time of the year is between late November and late January. The main smuggling routes run from Norte de Santander and the Colombian Goajira region through Maicao, via Maracaibo and cities in Lara and Barinas.
Caracas Gringo knows the “owners” of a half-dozen of these groups. Perhaps not surprisingly, all six are women. And their clients are mostly women; seven or eight out of every ten undocumented Colombians traveling in both directions are women who labor as “domesticas” in Venezuelan homes.
The Christmas season “fee” this year averages about Bs.F. 1,000 for undocumented Colombians traveling home for the holidays, up to BsF2 million for the return trip in January 2010. Return trips cost almost double because the smugglers pay bribes to the Venezuelan National Guard at every stage of the journey.
The journey in both directions is made in passenger vehicles, small trucks and buses. The smugglers like to “consolidate” their shipments of undocumented Colombians, because the larger the group, the greater the profits per head.
Trucks or buses will transport the incoming undocumented Colombians to Maracaibo, where they transfer to passenger vehicles (usually taxis) for the drive across the Lake Maracaibo bridge. The taxis may travel as far as Barquisimeto, where the undocumented Colombians transfer to buses for the rest of the journey to Valencia or Caracas.
The smugglers also use safe houses in cities like Maracaibo and Barquisimeto to hide the undocumented Colombians for several hours or overnight until the pre-arranged transportation arrives.
En route to Caracas from Maicao, the smugglers moving groups of undocumented Colombians may encounter a dozen National Guard checkpoints (“alcabalas”) at a minimum. And at every checkpoint, the National Guard officer or sergeant in command is paid in cash.
And sometimes, way out in the boondocks near Maicao, some National Guard troops also abuse women who attract the interest of the guardsmen.
The undocumented Colombians arrested today almost certainly are not paramilitaries. But bad timing and worse luck has made them convenient pawns of the Chavez regime as it strives to destabilize Tachira state, and also stoke a conflict with the government of President Alvaro Uribe Velez.